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Solar Eclipse QSO Party a Hit, Science Conclusions Await Additional Analysis


The 2017 Solar Eclipse QSO Party (SEQP) is history, and, while logs are still coming in, the preliminary participation numbers look good, according to Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, of HamSCI.

“Although the final numbers are not yet in, preliminary reports show that over 670,000 spots were detected by the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), and over 542,000 spots were reported to PSKReporter [PSK Automatic Propagation Reporter] during the SEQP,” Frissell told ARRL on August 22. “These numbers will increase as data is processed. The PSKReporter statistics page shows that today [August 21] had the highest amount of activity of any day currently available on the website.”

Frissell said overall, the event went well, and he heard a lot of on-the-air activity during the 8 hours the SEQP was running.

“It will take some time to get a more scientific analysis of this, but we should have some results by the middle of this semester,” said Frissell, who is an associate research professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Frissell and others are investigating whether the sudden absence of sunlight during the eclipse — and especially of solar ultra-violet and x-rays — would briefly change the properties of the upper atmosphere.

Despite more than 60 years of research, “open questions remain regarding eclipse-induced ionospheric impacts,” Frissell explained in a paper, “HamSCI and the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse,” that he’ll deliver this year at the ARRL-TAPR Digital Communications Conference (DCC).

He is encouraging anyone who took part in the SEQP to submit a log by September 30. Once their logs are submitted, SEQP participants will get a PDF Certificate of Participation. Frissell, who was in Gilbertsville, Kentucky to observe the eclipse, said, “Totality was beautiful.”

At Maxim Memorial Station W1AW, the focus was more on keeping on top of any emergency situations that could arise from the thousands of visitors converging along the narrow strip of totality. ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, and his assistant Ken Bailey, K1FUG, checked into and monitored the SATERN Net on 20 meters. They also monitored the interoperability channel 1 on 60 meters for coordination with federal partners. W1AW Station Manager Joe Carcia, NJ1Q, checked into WL2K nodes on 40 meters for any possible traffic. “Also, during this time, we went outside to look at the eclipse!” Carcia added.

Many Amateur Radio special event stations were also on the air along the path of totality on August 21.

Veteran Broadcast Listener (BCL) Bill Feidt, NG3K, in Maryland, conducted an informal propagation experiment on the AM Broadcast Band, listening on 1070 kHz, which, he reported, “came alive with many signals,” at about 1830 UTC. “It was pretty much a jumble,” he told ARRL. “But just before 1900 UTC, I was able to identify WNCT in Greenville, North Carolina, which became quite strong and dominant for a few minutes.” WNCT’s 50-kW daytime signal is aimed away from Maryland.

Elsewhere, using the S meter on his Panasonic RF-4900 receiver, 88-year-old John S. Erickson of Schenectady, New York, the father of ionospheric researcher Phil Erickson, W1PJE, recorded the signal strength of WWV time signals on 10 and 15 MHz every 10 minutes. His results show that nighttime conditions, where WWV got stronger on 10 MHz and weaker at 15 MHz, occurred before local eclipse passage on long paths. His data are being passed on to HamSCI for analysis.

“RF Seismograph” Sees Little Effect

An initial analysis of solar eclipse RF Seismograph measurements by Alex Schwarz, VE7DXW, and his Modulation-Demodulation Software Radio (MDSR) group has suggested that the effect of the brief interruption in solar radiation within an approximately 70-mile-wide strip had minimal overall effect on radio propagation. The Scanning RF Seismograph is a real-time HF propagation monitoring tool.

“The Solar Eclipse RF Seismograph exclusively showed that propagation changes, but not to the extent that folk tales report,” Schwarz and the MDSR team said in a news release. “During the eclipse we measured in three locations, and two did not show any changes in the way propagation behaves. On the third station, at an elevation of 900 meters, the 40-meter band came up, but that is not any different from regular 40-meter behavior.”

The team believes that increased absorption on the low bands from high solar activity may have been a factor in the measurement’s not yielding expected results. “The small band of darkness could not compensate for the thicker D Layer,” the MDSR news release said.

Frissell told Schwarz that he’d be “very hesitant to make these conclusions so quickly and based on observations from a single point of reference.”

“We know from past experiments that there are significant ionospheric changes resulting from the eclipse. Even from a citizen-science standpoint, many of these changes have been documented. We are hoping to see these effects on a larger scale.”

Frissell pointed to observations made during the 1999 eclipse in the UK by Ruth Bamford at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

“I think more work needs to be done before any firm conclusions can be made,” he told ARRL. “I believe we will be able to see an effect in our observations.”




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